Rising monthly subscription rates convinced many early adopters to ditch cable or satellite for less expensive streaming services like Sling TV and Netflix. In the process, new services have launched over the years, including Disney+, Apple TV+, and, most recently, HBO Max. Together, you'll find a lot of great content available across various platforms.
And yet, there are only 24 hours in a day, and it's not feasible to subscribe to everything.
According to a March 2020 report in Cord Cutters News, the average American now spends over $215 per month on cable or satellite. With this in mind, we have some ideas on how you can enjoy video streaming around four monthly price points and still save considerable money each month.
General factors to consider
No two streaming video services are the same both in terms of what type of content it offers and how.
Different types of services
YouTube TV, Sling TV, FuboTV, and similar offerings provide "skinny" television packages that most resemble cable or satellite services. By doing so, they offer access to live streams of multiple channels. These services also provide an on-demand component that lets you watch programming from those channels at any time. They also offer cloud-based recording capabilities. The feature allows you to record content when it airs for later viewing.
Services like HBO Max, Netflix, and Disney+, by contrast, offer a combination of original and legacy content that's available on-demand and through cloud recording. These packages don't provide live streams.
As the name suggests, original content is only available on one service. For example, you can only find The Mandalorian and 13 Reasons Why on Disney+ and Netflix, respectively. By contrast, some of the library content might also be found on other services, depending on licensing contracts. However, the same content might get packaged differently between the two types of services.
As an example, let's take a look at the 2016 hit Suicide Squad. HBO Max subscribers can stream this PG-13 rated movie at any time. The film is also available currently on TNT, which makes it accessible through "skinny" television packages such as you would find on Sling TV. If the film gets edited for airing on TNT (for whatever reason), it's also edited on the streaming service. And, if you record a live stream of the movie for later viewing, you might even run into commercials.
Most of the services mentioned here are available across multiple platforms, including iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, among many others, including Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire. Newer services, HBO Max, for example, might have more limited availability versus older services. However, this is almost certainly only temporary and will depend on new contracts between providers.
Over-the-air providers often use live sports to differentiate it from other services. COVID-19 has temporarily stopped most live games, so this is less of a factor, at least in the short term.
Local network channels
There are five networks in the United States: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and PBS. Each is available through local affiliate channels. In the world of streaming, not every local network channel is available in all areas.
If you need to get local channels, your best bet is YouTube TV, which is our best streaming service in 2020, followed by Hulu with Live TV. When in doubt, check with the provider before making your decision.
It's now time to take a look at our recommended plans.
Go skinny: $25 per month
Award-winning original programs are just one of the reasons to get Netflix.
For added savings, remember to add the special Disney+ bundle that also includes Hulu and ESPN+.
If you can spend at least $25 per month on video streaming, we suggest purchasing a monthly subscription to Netflix and bundling it with a special three-in-one package that's available through Disney+.
Netflix offers an extensive library of both original and library content for as little as $9 per month. The $16/month Premium Ultra HD plan is best for families as it allows subscribers to watch content on four screens at a time and includes full HD (1080p) and Ultra HD (4K) where available. With this package, you also get to download videos on four phones or tablets.
With a $7/month Disney+ subscription, you gain access to the company's vast library of video content, including Star Wars, Pixar, National Geographic, and more. For $13/month, you get Hulu streaming (with commercials) and ESPN+ membership.
Hulu, as opposed to the more expensive Hulu with Live TV, offers a growing library of original content, Disney's more mature offerings, and much more. With ESPN+, you get premium content from the No. 1 sports programmer.
In total, you can subscribe to Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for as little as $22 per month. Add around $12, and you can get the premium Netflix package and Hulu without commercials, pushing the price up to about $35.
Skinny plus live streaming: $75 per month
As YouTube explains, "Live TV from 70+ channels. Entertainment, news, and sports. No cable box, contracts, or hidden fees."
For around $50 more per month, you can get everything that's included in the skinny plan and also live streaming through YouTube TV, which is our favorite. With YouTube TV, which often comes with a free two-week trial, you get more than 70 channels (and growing), including every local network channel in most US markets. With YouTube TV, you will also find multiple ESPN and Viacom channels, YouTube Premium original movies and shows, and much more.
YouTube TV's reach extends to mobile devices, computers, streaming media players, and smart TVs. A good rule of thumb: if you own a late-generation streaming device, the odds are pretty good it includes YouTube TV built into the interface or through an app.
Sports fans may wish to consider going with FuboTV instead of YouTube TV. First introduced five years ago, FuboTV has long been noted for its focus on professional sports, including the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, and international soccer. In recent years, the New York City-based company has expanded its reach to appeal to non-sports fans too. In 2020, FuboTV offers four main plans, plus a slew of add-ons, starting at $55 per month.
Let's discuss channels
The channels available in Live TV packages are always changing. Before selecting one, be sure it offers the ones that you like. Yes, there are sometimes subtle differences between the streaming plans.
The Benjamin: $100 per month
There's a lot of content here, starting with most of HBO's vast library of original programs.
If you're a fan of HBO original programming, you gotta check out HBO Max. Priced at $14.99 per month (it's also available as an add-on for YouTube TV), the latest streaming video service on the market offers over 10,000 hours of curated content and growing. In addition to providing full access to HBO's ever-growing library of original material,
HBO Max also includes titles from DC Comics, Sesame Street, TCM, Adult Swim, and much more. The service also offers HBO Max original programming not found on HBO proper.
With HBO Max added to your bundle, your monthly price rises to just under $100 per month. In summary, you get Netflix, YouTube TV, Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, and HBO Max.
Extras to consider
Fans of the CBS network will appreciate CBS All Access, which provides all your favorites and much more.
There are a few holes in the Benjamin plan that you may still want to consider. Apple TV+, at $4.95 per month, is one of those, as is CBS All Access (which starts at $6 per month).
Apple is currently offering a free one-year subscription to Apple TV + to anyone who purchases a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. With its still limited offerings, somewhat due to the coronavirus, Apple TV + would be best served to remain free for new device owners. A recent rumor says Apple's considering creating a new bundle that could include Apple TV+, Apple Music, and Apple News+.
CBS All-Access also offers original programming, including Star Trek Discovery" and a new version of The Twilight Zone. It also includes 15,000 episodes of current CBS shows and classic hits.
What about Amazon Prime?
If you're an Amazon Prime customer, you also receive Amazon Prime and its growing library of original programming and other content. At $119 per year, it's a great deal if you want discounted shipping, video streaming, Prime Reading, unlimited photo storage, and more.
Video isn't the only thing you get with Amazon Prime. You also receive free shipping, unlimited photo storage, and more.
If you're already an Amazon Prime subscriber and you want to save some money, consider ditching Netflix from your bundle. By doing so, you'll lose access to Netflix's original programming, but continue to have access to many of the same legacy titles, especially movies. Otherwise, keep Amazon Prime and appreciate its range of services that can help you save money because of the free two-day and one-day shipping.
A final note
Unlike cable and satellite providers, subscriptions to TV streaming packages don't require a contract. Because of this, you can add and remove services with ease. In my household, for example, we tend to cut down on the number of plans we subscribe to during the summer months and add more when it gets colder. Others might make their streaming decisions based on what type of live sports are currently in season. Whatever you do, keep in mind that you're always a few short clicks or taps away from making a change.
What do you think of the bundles offered here? What would you do differently? Let us know your comments below and happy viewing!